What I have learned working with scientists in my time at Amazon


What I have learned working with scientists in my time at Amazon about building algorithms for solving business problems.

For the past few years I have been working with Amazon’s Machine Learning University. My role has been to help them scale and reach more Amazonian’s. We accomplished this by creating a learning platform with supportive course content, an emphasis on strong visual and interactive learning. We basically flipped the classroom. My focus has always been to put the experience of the learner first. Providing a clean design, removing noise, with engaging content so the student can focus on learning. The approach has been a great success in teaching Amazonian’s to solve Amazon business problems with Machine Learning.

Enough on what I did and back to what I have learned.

I think one of the first lessons was the importance of gathering data. Data is at the core of understanding the problem. We often approach problems in business or personal for that matter without taking in good data. We lack a complete understanding of the problem.

Until you have data you really can’t build an understanding of what ground truth is. This is very important because everything builds from ground truth. You must explore and visualize your data to establish this. You need to make sure you understand the details that may be hidden in your data. Establish things like context, sentiment, frequency to establish relevancy. Remove the unimportant stuff and focus on what is really important. To do this you may have to do the math, yes, the math. Math is the magic used manipulate and visualize your data. This may sound simple but remember its math. There may be some work to do as you build your algorithm and try and find ground truth. You may need to do some tuning, adjusting your algorithm there is not always a predefined path but more of a process or framework to help you get to your final output.

It is at this point, the point when you see things clearly. But that’s not it. There is something bigger than solving the problem. What? As you know solving problems can sometimes be like putting your finder on the dike. The problem may come again or one like it.

The real value comes in prediction. Now that you can see clearly what has happened in the past and today using insights from your data you can start to predict what will happen next. It’s something Amazon does very well. You know “I see that you purchased that guitar, would you like to look at guitar for dummies or perhaps something to tune that thing please. It’s the secrete sauce, yes, I’d like to solve my problems in the future.

There is one more thing and it maybe my favorite. In my time at Amazon I have discusses quantum physics, robots & rocket science and lots of other geeky fun topics sometimes while playing ping pong. What a privilege that has been to work with some truly inspiring people at Amazon. That said the real insights I gained where from working with the amazing people at Amazon. It’s their drive to solve problems, innovate, willingness to work hard and learn as they go. I’ve worked with some of the smartest people I have ever met here. Many of them are physicists, mathematics masters and rocket scientists. Yet they don’t pretend to know the all answers but they do know how to work hard to get them. I also appreciated the great leadership I worked with in my time at Amazon. Nothing happens in an organization without true leaders and inspiring people who establish clear expectations and remove obstacles it’s truly part of the algorithm for success.


Instructional and Learning Experience Design


7 things small business should read before making a video

Found this article this morning and I will have to agree, so I thought I would share. Video is so powerful and much more feasible today than even ten years ago. Costs have come way down and it is much easier to distribute or share with your audience. I believe in the power of video. Especially for learning. It can act as stand-a-lone or part of an eLearning, it can be shared in classroom training to break up the the day and improve engagement. Video can also be extremely powerful when combined with mobile.  We have seen the rise of video though social media and its power with portals like Youtube. Video can be interactive as well. For example watch a video and make a choice based on what the video showed you.  I have helped many organizations take the first steps into adding video into their learning and development. It can be easier than you think, especially with a little  help and some mojo 🙂

7 things small business should read before making a video- San Diego Video Production Company.

Should I stop charging my clients?

Will work for freeWow could this really work. I am not sure if I have the guts to try this but it really sound like a great way to do business. It would be freeing to eliminate the RFP lowest bid pressure and just do your highest quality work based on the needs of your client. Many times I have thought that the bidding process and contract gets in the way of good responsive deign. Before you truly engage with stakeholders and subject matter experts you are asked to define a scope of work. So you outline what you think is needed and propose a design and a price. This becomes the project. Then when you dig in you discover additional needs or changes in the scope of work. This is where it can get awkward for both sides. This ridged structure often gets in the way of getting to what is needed. If you could remove all this and just collaboratively and responsively create exactly what your clients needs then you will always have a happy client. I think the tough part would be that most organizations are dealing with layers of bureaucracy, budgetary processes that would make this difficult if not impossible for them to do business in this way. So I guess this potentially better way of working will have its challenges and may not work for every client. That said there is always the fact that it is important to choose clients that are the best fit for how you work. I really appreciate the concept and am going to try and bring some of the ideas into how I approach my work.

Here is the article that inspired these thoughts. This Guy Stopped Charging Clients And He Has Zero Regrets